Wilburn Mitchell, left, and Brenda Wingo on Zoom.

AIDS Outreach Center staff discusses how the pandemic has affected more than just physical health

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer

Social isolation designed to save lives is causing mental health problems among many of those it’s designed to help, especially those whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV. In a Facebook Live chat, AIDS Outreach Center Lead Peer

Advocate Wilburn Mitchell discussed with Behavioral Health Counselor Brenda Wingo how stay-at-home orders have been affecting mental health.

Those with HIV whose viral load count remains undetectable don’t seem to be any more likely to contract the virus than the population in general. Those with weakened immune systems may be at greater risk, however.

In forcing a near-nationwide shut down over the last two-plus months, the COVID-19 crisis has left many people without income and drained financial resources. So, Wingo said, people are facing a medical threat with reduced resources and strained finances. On top of that, while we’re concerned about our health, the LGBTQ community can’t do one very important thing we learned to do so well during the AIDS epidemic — check on each other. And losing a job causes stress that can usually be handled better with the support of friends and family.

So, what should we do to maintain good mental health?

While we can’t visit each other in person, we can keep in touch by phone, and we can see each other via applications like

Facetime or Zoom, Wingo said. She also suggested keeping a schedule and developing a routine.

“Find structure,” Wingo said. “Separate the weekend from the weekdays.”

Weekdays should be more for chores. Get things done around the house. If you’re working from home, keep to the schedule.

And it doesn’t matter which days of the week are your weekend. If you’re usually off a couple of days during the week, maintain that schedule. But on the weekend, whichever days that is, schedule something fun.

“Don’t stay up late just because you can,” Wingo urged, because that will throw your schedule way off.

“Walk,” she continued. “Get outside 20 minutes a day.”

Can’t walk? Sit outside. Nowhere to sit outside? Do yoga or meditation. Both relieve stress.

When you’re walking, Wingo said, look out into the distance. You’re probably spending a lot of time in front of a screen, and focusing at least 12 feet away relaxes the retina.

And walking in nature is better than walking on a busy street, because, “Nature is calming,” Wingo said.

Journaling is also healthy, Wingo explained. At a time when we can’t interact with family, friends or even coworkers the way we normally would, writing out your feelings and recording what you’re doing during this period of social isolation is a good way to release stress.

Mitchell said he’s spending a lot of his time playing with his animals. Probably nothing is more calming than that.
Since the shut-down began, calls to domestic violence hotlines have gone up 300 percent. No study shows domestic violence itself is up, but anecdotal evidence from police says it is.

That is especially true for families with children, juggling homeschooling with working from home and financial burdens.

Even the stress of doing simple chores like shopping are causing strain.

Wingo and Mitchell said the increased strain is normal. Be conscious of it and try some of their suggestions to help reduce stress and fatigue and improve mental health.


Coping with Stress
From the Centers for Disease Control

Ways to cope with stress
• Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media.
Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
• Take care of your body.
• Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
• Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
• Exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep.
• Avoid alcohol and drugs.
• Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
• Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you
are feeling.

Need help? Know someone who does?
If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness,
depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others:
• Call 911.
• Visit the Disaster Distress Helpline, call 1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
• Visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-7233 and TTY

Know the facts to help reduce stress
Understanding the risk to yourself and people you care about can make an outbreak less
stressful. Learn and share the facts about COVID-19 and help stop the spread of rumors.

Take care of your mental health
Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row. People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms. Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Disaster Preparedness page.